02 June 2010

Poetry in motion

(Today's writing prompt: "What is your favorite poem?" Dirty little secret: I'm not overly fond of poetry as a writing form. Given that I dumped International Relations in favor of literature, a dirty little secret indeed!)

As a child, stuck in a desert, hungry to know everything, I faced the difficulty of everyone telling me to CALM DOWN! STOP TRYING TO LEARN SO MUCH!

Which is like telling me to stop breathing. In my case, the quest for knowledge is almost involuntary. It's bred in the bone. There is no STOP.

I don't know how old I was when I set out on the path of self-education. Probably from the moment I started reading, which was very young. I was the kid who read the dictionary. The cereal box. The directions on my mother's jar of Dippity-Do. Every book and magazine in the house, no matter how complex or how much of it I didn't actually understand. The entire children's section of the public library, down to the check out cards in the books (all those names were so interesting!). Cookbooks.

And then there was Edgar Allan Poe. Some of the language in his stories was difficult for a primary school reader to decipher (dictionary!), but the poetry was quite comprehensible. I read "The Raven" aloud to myself, grieved for the beautiful Annabel Lee, thrilled to the alliteration of "The Bells."

Even if I didn't know what alliteration was in those days.

Anyway, at about the point in time, all the relatives said to themselves: she reads! Let's give her books of poetry.

So they did. And I read them. Ewww, said I. What a lot of incomprehensible drivel. How very boring.

Later, I read Shakespeare, and that was all right, up until I had to write a sonnet, which wasn't so all right. But I did and that was that.

Off I went to college. I started out in international relations, got frustrated, and changed majors. Literature! Reading and writing! Happy! Joy!


Now, I have a brain that contains a judicious portion of engineer. I am mechanically and spatially adept, logical to a fault, precise when I'm not lazy. Why would I not be drawn like a moth to flame to meter, rhyme, scansion? Why, when I love language, repeat words to myself the way others stroke velvet, revere the structuralists, amuse myself with the art and science of writing, would I not be attracted to poetry? Also there's that tiny romantic, dreamy streak that I deny exists. So, I am the perfect candidate to be wandering around, book in hand, quoting the Raven.


Not to mention no way.

I don't remember which lit class it was, but there was some poetry assignment, and since I was taking a graduate level class in Spanish lit at the same time, I decided to translate one of the poems I'd read in the Spanish class into English, and then as the basis for my paper, compare my translation to the accepted and generally disseminated English translations. My translation actually scanned better in the end and sounded nicer overall, and I was quite pleased with that bit of work. The professor raved about the whole thing, and decided I needed to publish it.

Which I just wouldn't do. Because I am nothing if not ambitious in stretching the scope of my own knowledge and anything but ambitious when it comes to sharing the end result.

More to the point, though, to my mind what I'd done was construction work: laid an appropriate foundation, and designed and built a carefully planned structure. The emotion was as translated as words. It was beautiful and it looked like poetry. But it wasn't.

It didn't engage my heart.

Most poetry doesn't. It might make me laugh, or think a little more deeply about something. I might appreciate the imagery or the story or the perfection of the structure, but generally I prefer prose. Of course, set it to music and it's a completely different story. Then, it's a song.

I love songs.

Do I have a favorite poem? Not that I can think of. I am fond of EA Poe, and I've always enjoyed A.A. Milne's And Now We Are Six. I like Coleridge and admire T.S. Eliot. Karl Shapiro's "The Fly" remains, by turns, hilarious and disgusting. But a favorite that I hang on to, and force everyone around me to read?

Not as of this writing. Which means that somewhere out there, a poem is waiting for me.

Go listen to some good music: "She Blinded Me with Science" from the album The Golden Age of Wireless by Thomas Dolby. Please understand this post is intended to be a bit tongue in cheek.


Deb said...

My favorite poem. It leaves me absolutely breathless even though I am not even remotely religious. It MUST be read aloud. From John Donne's Holy Sonnets XIV. If you're gonna beg for a sign, do it with passion.

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you

As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

guerrilla girl said...

Ah yes. I'll never forget that class with *that* professor (who also did a serviceable Wife of Bath), reading Donne aloud. I think he read this one two or three times. Or maybe I just heard it two or three times because I had several classes with him.

I'm not sure my favorite poem has been written yet. I like that possibility.

Love, The Feather.

BTW, 26.

Deb said...

Sorry you were beaten about with that poem, Feather. Sometimes we get excited and force stuff down the throats of our victims ... er, I mean students.

guerrilla girl said...

No, it's a great poem, and he did a very emotional reading of it. I suspect it was his favorite poem, too.

(He made Chaucer come alive, which was one of his greatest gifts. I came away from one of his Early English literature classes with a huge appreciation for that.)

Funny, too, that I read this Donne now and feel something quite different than I did when I was an undergrad. Increasing age and experience have always done that for me, which is why I go back and reread so many things.

I'm glad that you took the time to type all that out. Thanks!